The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was founded in 1948, and today it’s the largest stock car racing organization in the world with over 47 million people attending the races every year.
NASCAR has been featured in several movies, television shows, and video games, but despite these media appearances, NASCAR’s popularity has recently been declining as other motorsports continue to grow more popular every year. Here are seven reasons why NASCAR is dying.
Table of Contents
As of 2014, there have been nine deaths at sanctioned races since 1982. Fans are angry and disappointed about how it has played out. According to an ESPN poll, roughly two-thirds of respondents (68%) think open-wheel racing (IndyCar) is safer than stock car racing.
They’re not alone—drivers from both series have voiced their concerns as well. The most recent death at a NASCAR race was in 2013 when 38-year old driver Jason Leffler died after he was ejected from his vehicle following a wreck during a practice session for a race in New Jersey.
Another fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt Sr., died on national television after crashing into another vehicle during a race in 2001. Racecar drivers who survived crashes have said they no longer enjoy driving because they fear getting injured or killed while competing.
Outside of the serious danger drivers face each time they get behind the wheel, fans also aren’t happy with NASCAR anymore either: 1/3 say that technology has become too much of a factor in determining winners, with many complaining that technology such as GPS systems give less-experienced drivers an advantage over veterans who can navigate courses based on memory or familiarity.
NASCAR has taken steps to make races safer since these deaths occurred, adding new rules, hiring a vice president of safety, and installing softer walls around track edges in an effort to reduce crashes. Still, fans feel NASCAR’s safety precautions are inadequate compared to those implemented by other professional racing leagues such as IndyCar or Formula One.
Many suggest that what NASCAR needs is less technology—such as mapping systems and dashboard cameras—and more training for drivers before they hit the track.
Lack of growth
With no new young stars on board, fans simply don’t have anyone to get excited about. That lack of enthusiasm trickles down from die-hard fans to casual viewers, who are now tuning in less and less. In some ways, then, it makes sense why NASCAR ratings have declined so dramatically over recent years.
Viewers aren’t tuning in because they don’t see an athlete they can rally behind. (As if that weren’t enough.) But all hope isn’t lost—especially when you consider how drastic turn things could take with just one or two races of unexpected, awe-inspiring racing.
It happened for Dale Earnhardt Jr. multiple times during his career. Maybe it’s time for another driver to make his or her own jump up the ranks.
There are cheaper forms of racing than NASCAR, much cheaper. And more exciting, from an outsider’s perspective. With tickets starting at $75 per car per race, it’s not cheap for a family to attend one of these races. Add in other costs, like hotels and travel expenses, and you could be looking at spending as much on a weekend of racing as you would for an entire month worth of groceries.
When compared with other sports events like football games or baseball games, even big-time auto racing doesn’t seem all that affordable. While tickets may be low for football games (often as low as $5), add parking, concession prices, and overpriced hot dogs into the mix and you’ll find yourself spending just as much—if not more—as you would have at a NASCAR event.
Declining popularity among millennials
If you want to reach Millennials, NASCAR isn’t going to cut it, said Michael Downing, an expert on Millennial consumption habits and author of several books on Millennials. NASCAR just doesn’t fit into their lifestyles. It’s too expensive and too time-consuming.
That used to be okay because Baby Boomers loved NASCAR—but that demographic is aging out of sports. The average age of a NASCAR fan is now 53 years old, only 13% are under 34 years old, according to Nielsen research from 2015. And as they age out, they’re not being replaced by new generations coming in.
This shows in TV ratings. The 2015 Sprint Cup was down 3%, including 5% among people aged 18–34. At its peak popularity in 2005, 35 million people tuned in weekly to watch live races, last year 24 million did so (Nielsen).
TV ratings plummet
The Nielsen ratings for NASCAR’s most-watched races, such as The Daytona 500, have plummeted in recent years. In 2007, an average of 16.4 million viewers tuned in to watch The Daytona 500, but by 2014 that number had fallen by more than 50% to an average of 8.3 million viewers per race.
Viewership continued to drop in 2015 with a 3% drop from 2014’s 8.1 million and 2016 also saw a drop at 7.8 million per race on average. Some attribute NASCAR’s declining TV ratings to the decreased public interest in professional stock car racing over popular sports like football and baseball. Others note that more young people are watching other forms of entertainment like video games or streaming TV shows online.
Additionally, since so many younger fans seem to be tuning out NASCAR nowadays, sponsors aren’t spending nearly as much money on commercials during races. This leads to less revenue for race tracks, teams, and drivers alike—and without lucrative contracts between these companies, some believe it could spell doom for all three parties in a very real way.
Increased regulation and oversight of drivers
Drivers in every other form of racing are required to wear head and neck restraints, including helmets and HANS devices. Other series, like Formula 1, employs an even more stringent standard that includes almost full-body fireproof suits.
In NASCAR, drivers wear nothing more than a suit jacket and a helmet with no head or neck support whatsoever. A driver who isn’t wearing any safety gear can go airborne at 150+ miles per hour—it’s estimated that if one of these drivers took a hard hit from another car or slammed into something solid at those speeds, he could die from the impact alone. Without ever hitting anything else. You know what they say: If you can walk away from it, it ain’t worth running over.